A project that’s long been in the works, it was in 2010 when it was first revealed that the Hughes brothers (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes) of “Menace to Society,” “Dead Presidents,” “The Book of Eli” and more, had been tapped by Warner Bros to helm a live-action remake of the cult classic “Akira,” Katsuhiro Otomo’s expansive graphic novel.
About a year later, in early 2011, it looked like the project was starting to come together rapidly after WB hired the screenwriter of 7 “Harry Potter” films, as well as “Wonder Boys” (Steve Kloves is his name) to “polish up” the screenplay for the Hughes Brothers adaptation.
Principal photography was scheduled to being in August 2011; the script was said to have been sent out to a short list of actors that the studio and directors wanted for the two leads. The list included, for the role of Tetsuo: Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy had been given the script; and for the role of Kaneda: Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix were all said to be in the running.
Obviously, none of those actors is Japanese, which led to major blowback, as this happened soon after the heavy fallout over casting for “The Last Airbender.”
Warner wanted to make 2 films out of Otomo’s tome – which makes sense; “Akira” is quite an intense, complex maze; a 2,182-page graphic novel that can’t be fully realized in 1 single studio film – and the Hughes brothers were required to deliver a PG13 film (which didn’t make a lot of sense; anyone who’s read the source material, or watched Otomo’s “Akira” anime, will understand). But the Hughes bros weren’t keen on 2 films. And in May of 2011, it was revealed that the brothers had left the project due to “an amicable ‘creative differences’ parting of the way. ”
So where’s the project now? In limbo; although it’s still on the WB’s to-do list, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way attached to produce.
Skip ahead to this morning to an exclusive report from Jeff Sneider (who’s been a reporter for Variety, The Wrap and now Tracking Board) that “Get Out” writer/director Jordan Peele is “being courted” to direct “Akira.”
From the report:
“Warner Bros. has been enamored with Peele ever since Get Out opened to big business and sparked a cultural conversation. At one point, I thought the studio was going to ask him to direct The Flash. Who knows? They still could! But I’m told Akira is the WB project that Peele is engaging on, and the talks are apparently going very well. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way is producing Akira with Andrew Lazar (American Sniper). Marco Ramirez (Netflix’s Daredevil) wrote the most recent draft of the script, though it’s expected that Peele would do his own pass should he close a deal.”
No confirmation from the WB I should note, so I’d file this under “rumor” for now. But Sneider has broken industry stories before during his years at Variety and The Wrap, so we’ll grant him some cred here, while also hoping that Peele does eventually close on a deal with the studio. Although while he’s demonstrated ability with “Get Out,” this would be an even bigger challenge I think, given how dense and universally-loved the source material is. It’s also pure sci-fi, and would likely command a significant budget, both of which would be firsts for Peele, whose horror satire “Get Out” cost a measly $4.5 million (measly by Hollywood studio standards).
Peele has said that he plans to make more of what he called “social thrillers,” so “Akira” could certainly become one of them. Set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, the original “Akira” manga, which explores themes of social isolation, corruption, and power, comprises of six volumes by its publisher Kodansha, published between 1984 and 1993. The work was first published in an English-language version by the Marvel Comics imprint Epic Comics, one of the first manga works to be translated in its entirety.
The 1998 film adaptation depicts a dystopian, cyberpunk Tokyo in 2019, telling a story about teenage biker Tetsuo Shima and his leader, Shotaro Kaneda. Because of Tetsuo’s superpowers, attemps are made by powerful people to prevent Tetsuo from releasing the imprisoned psychic, Akira. While most of the character designs and settings were adapted from the manga, the plot differs from the original manga. But the film developed a large cult following, and is widely considered to be a landmark in Japanese animation; some critics even call it one of the greatest animated and science fiction movies ever made.
So now we wait to find out if Peele is indeed “being courted” by WB, and whether a deal will be reached. One has to continue to wonder about how this will be cast, if it ever gets made; after so much backlash when the project was first announced, and criticism of casting decisions made on other remakes of foreign titles (Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” is a most recent example; also based on a Japanese manga of the same name), one would think that the studio would be very aware, and thus cautious about how they handle this one. I wouldn’t think that Jordan Peele would want to be at the center of any blowback an American “Akira” film would face should it star American actors.